Trumpeter Swans in a Skagit Farm Field

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Cooking North of Seattle

For some time now I have wanted a place where I could collect and share my recipes with my family and friends. The recipes I have collected in my life are a combination of old family recipes I learned from my Italian Grandmother, and ones I have found in books and, more recently, on the web. Many highlight the beautiful food I have encountered living here, so close to the fertile fields of Washington's Skagit valley and the ice cold waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Feast of the Seven Fishes: Christmas 2014

When I was a kid living on the East coast my Mom always hosted Christmas Eve dinner for the family. My Grammy and Papa would come, along with those of my aunts still living at home. We all crowded around the dining room table and feasted on fish dishes. I especially remember the huge lobster my Mom would always cook in tomato sauce and serve with pasta.

I always assumed that we had fish for Christmas Eve because we were Catholic. It wasn't until much later that I discovered the tradition of a Christmas Eve "Feast of the Seven Fishes". It is believed to have originated in Southern Italy and is a feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. Some Italian American families have been known to celebrate with 9, 11 or 13 different seafood dishes. The significance of the number is subject to several interpretations but all agree that the number must be odd.

Since moving to the Pacific Northwest I have found the task of finding seven different varieties of fresh, local fish and shellfish to be a snap. So, the last few years I have made it my mission to serve seven fish dishes to my guests on Christmas Eve. To add to the challenge I insist on the fish being local.

So, what fish are local to the Pacific Northwest? First let's look at the shellfish - clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, oysters and squid. That's six! So what else? Fin fish abound in these waters - salmon, halibut, rockfish of several varieties. So there is lots to chose from! The biggest problem is limiting myself to seven.

By the time Christmas rolls around I already have a freezer filled with crab and clams that we caught over the summer. So they always appear on my Christmas Eve menu. Penn Cove on Whidby Island is just a stone's throw from here and farms some of the best mussels in the area. So, mussels are another perfect choice. A December 23rd trip up to Taylor Shellfish Farm on Chuckanut Drive is a favorite for us. They have several different varieties of oyster, all farmed in the waters that surround their retail store. Can't get more local than that!

Much as I believe in eating and cooking local there is one dish that is so Italian I just cannot leave it off my Christmas Eve menu - baccalà or salted dried codfish.

It’s beginnings in Italian cuisine go back to the adventures of a 15th century Venetian captain, Pietro Querini, whose famous shipwreck off the coast of the far-away Lofoten islands of Norway brought codfish to the Northern Italians. The Venetians created a dish with this new discovery and called it baccalà. There are a number of different grades of baccalà; today the best is made from fish caught off the Canadian Maritimes.

Since it is salted, all baccalà requires soaking before it can be used. The flesh should be pliable, compact, and not feel woody; you should try to select a piece of uniform thickness so it will soak evenly. The longer the soaking, the less salty the fish.

To prepare it, rinse the fish in cold water, then soak for 12 - 24 hours in 2 - 4 changes of cold water. Until it tastes just pleasantly salty.

The salted fish will plump up after freshening. Once it has freshened skin it, pick out the bones, and it's ready for use. Please note: Freshened fish is still uncooked and, once re-hydrated, will spoil unless cooked promptly.

A Box of Baccalà

My Christmas Eve Menu

Taylor Shellfish Farm Oysters on the Half Shell
Smoked Copper River Salmon on Bread Farm Tonasket Rye bread with Cream Cheese, Green Onion and Capers
Pickled Herring on Bread Farm Tonasket Rye bread with Sour Cream Dressing
Wild Shrimp Broth with Korean Rice Cake, Ginger, & Cilantro
Stuffed Elger Bay Clams
Baccalà Salad
Linguine and Tomato Sauce with Penn Cove Mussels

The Recipes

Baccalà Salad

1 pound salt cod, soaked and drained (see notes)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 cup whole cured black olives
1 celery stalk, diced
1 T chopped parsley
2 T capers
1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

Place pre-soaked codfish in a medium saucepan, add water to cover by 1". Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until the fish flakes easily. Do not overcook. Remove the cod and drain the cod well.

In a bowl mix the garlic, olives, celery, and black pepper, red pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil. Break the cod apart in medium pieces and add to the bowl. Toss the cod with the garlic-olive mixture. Refrigerate and let sit for at least one half hour before serving.

Serve cold on a bed of lettuce or at room temperature.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Fried Salt Cod - Baccalà Fritto

1 pound salt cod, soaked and drained (see notes)
1 qt vegetable oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
lemon wedges to garnish

Place pre-soaked codfish in a medium saucepan, add water to cover by 1". Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until the fish flakes easily. Do not overcook. Remove the cod and drain the cod well.

Heat vegetable oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat until it registers 385 to 390°F on thermometer.

While oil is heating, whisk together flour, salt, olive oil, water, and parsley in a bowl. Drain cod and pat dry, then cut into 3- by 1/2-inch strips. Working in batches of 4, coat strips in batter, then transfer to oil with tongs and fry, turning, until golden, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet to drain. (Return oil to 385 to 390°F between batches.) Sprinkle with sea salt and serve immediately.

Makes 8 hors d'oeuvre servings.


Mushrooms, Tomatoes and Corn Late Fall 2011
Copper River Salmon Late Spring 2011
About Clams and Halibut Spring 2010
About Crab and Berries Summer 2009
Halibut, Fried Clams & Ricotta Spring 2009
A Clam Bake NW-style Early Spring 2009
A Shopping Trip to Seattle Winter 2009
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